Cycling and Sporting Leadership: The resignation of Sir David Brailsford

April 11, 2014

Richard Crackett

Sir David Brailsford announces his retirement as performance director at British Cycling to focus on Team Sky. We publish a post which had been in preparation written by LWD subscriber Richard Crackett

As the sun set on the Champs Elysee, Chris Froome crossed the line, arms linked with his team mates, wearing the famous maillot jaune, in the 100th Tour de France. The story is replete with issues of distributed leadership and sporting ethics.

For a second consecutive year, Dave Brailsford’s Team Sky had won. This was the first tour since Lance Armstrong admitted to doping in winning all seven of his now rescinded titles. Brailsford hailed it as a victory for hard work and ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’, but the popping of champagne corks may have been drowned out by the cacophony of questions about doping.

The King is Dead, Long live the King!

The build-up to the Tour was dominated by the fact the top contender for the title, Froome and the current holder, Bradley Wiggins, rode for the same team. Froome had been picked as the team leader with Wiggins expected to ride in support of him. At first, Wiggins let the press know that he intended to ride as if the leader, with Froome dismissing this point.
Brailsford seemed not to back either rider, and Froome described Wiggins’ withdrawal through injury as a ‘relief’. Perhaps Brailsford thought that two competing leaders would lead to greater performance from each, with a greater chance of one winning. It seems serendipitous that W iggins pulled out through illness, as it could be argued that his involvement may have harmed Sky’s chance of winning.

Aggregation of Marginal Gains

Brailsford’s approach to sporting excellence involves the aggregation of marginal gains. He seeks to break down every process to its smallest component and attempting to improve on each one. The multitude small gains in performance will be significant. His track record in the Tour and Olympic cycling suggests his approach to be very successful.

‘Relativity applies to physics, not ethics’ – Albert Einstein

Even before the Lance Armstrong crisis, Cycling was mired in suspicion about doping. Brailsford brought in a zero-tolerance approach at Team Sky. Anyone with any history of doping was made to leave the team. When the suspicion didn’t go away, he offered the medical records on Froome’s historic performance to a newspaper, which confirmed it showed nothing untoward.

The zero tolerance approach was criticised by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for being too draconian, meaning people would be afraid to speak out damaging the efforts to catch more cheats. His effort to distance his team from doping, they argued, could actually hurt the more global fight against doping.

The exception

Brailsford’s zero to team member David Millar, an ex-doper for the 2012 Olympics. He also seems willing to ‘push the boundaries’ of competition and bend the rules in pursuit of marginal gains. In Olympic cycling, the equipment that the cyclists use must be commercially available. Brailsford developed the best bikes using many bespoke innovations, and made them ‘available’ commercially through British cycling at exorbitant fees .

Marginal Gains or Pushing the Boundaries?

Brailsford is a transformational leader for British cycling. He has produced incredible results, but we are left questioning his leadership. Did he really think Wiggins’ and Froome could work together? Does his law of marginal gains apply to the advantage he tries to squeeze out by bending the rules? It is no surprise that his willingness to push the boundaries has meant his reactive response to the doping issue has not been universally accepted as solely in the spirit of sporting competition.


The boat race: Competent Jerks and loveable fools

April 6, 2014

Seven years ago, Cambridge introduced a teamwork theory into their boat-race planning. Leaders we deserve assessed whether the ideas held water

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The post in Leaders we deserve described how the theory was supposed to work.

The news was picked up by the media noting that Cambridge Coach Duncan Holland has been assisted by Mark de Rond from Cambridge’s Judge Business School.

Mark is an American strategy theorist who is tipping his toe into more behavioral waters here (I can’t get away from aquatic imagery at the moment).

Competent Jerks and loveable fools

The basic idea, by Casciano and Lobo, originated in the prestigious Harvard Business Review last June. Their work examines the relationships between managers with differing levels of competence and of likeability. Details of the work can be found in a summary by Asia one Business AsiaOne Business:

The authors studied four organisations – one which is profit-motivated, one non-profit, another large and the fourth, small. No matter which organisation they studied, they found that everybody wanted to work with a lovable star and nobody wanted to work with an incompetent jerk. They say things got more interesting when people faced the choice between competent jerks and lovable fools … surprise, surprise, the two researchers found out that the reverse was true in the four companies they analysed.

“Personal feelings played a more important role in forming work relationships – not friendships at work, but job-oriented friendships – than is commonly acknowledged, even more important than evaluations of competence.”
The competent jerks represent an opportunity for the organisation because so much of their expertise is discounted.

Since the original post, Oxford has won four out of six contests. Today’s race is considered too close to call.


Graeme Smith, a greatly underestimated leader of South African cricket

March 6, 2014


Graeme Smith is rarely mentioned among lists of the great cricket captains. This is mostly a matter of style over substance

Graeme Smith announced his immediate retirement from international cricket this week [6th March 2014]. The timing of the announcement was curious,and appears to have been a shock to his closest colleagues. I want to return to this, but my main interest is why he has not received far more recognition for his achievements.

His track record as captain starting as a 22 year old is outstanding with numerous achievements. His 109 tests as captain far exceeds that of second player Alan Border, and his batting average of nearly 50 is only surpassed as an opening bat in Test Cricket by the great Sunil Gavaskar.

He has been a particular success over England with team and personal displays that have contributed to several retirements of his English counterparts.

His curious departure

There have been rumours over the last few years that he was becoming disenchanted with his lengthy time as captain. Changes in his personal life contributed recently. Even so, to announce his retirement as his team were struggling in series-determining match against Australia goes against the principles of a leader putting his team above personal considerations. It suggests considerable internal conflict or a cranky individualism of another controversial South African, Kevin Pietersen whose defections to the ranks of the England team and then out of it are infamous to English and South African cricket lovers alike.

Why is he rarely hailed as an all-time great captain?

The only explanation I can think of is that he is the antithesis of a stylish player. His personality verges on the dour and anti-charismatic. Cricket is a game that loves the effortless style and flamboyance of players such as David Gower and Ian Botham. You can see more psycho-analytical ramblings on leadership style, Geoffrey Boycott and Kevin Pietersen in an earlier blog post


Berdych beats Ferrer: Injustice as a spur to change

January 21, 2014

Injustice as a tipping point? Berdych v Ferrer.

I remain unconvinced about the tipping point theory of change. An incident in a tennis match, however, appears to give the theory supporting evidence.

Thomas Berdych and Ferrer were playing for a place in the semi-finals at the Australian Open [21 January, 2014] Ferrer was out of sorts, Berdych playing at his best. Ferrer, the higher ranked player, is noted for his tenacity, Berdych for his power.

Berdych sweeps to a two set lead, then Ferrer ups his game, Berdych dips. Ferrer improves and wins third set.

Commentators see that ‘momentum has swung’ to Ferrer. [Another dubious concept but also another blog post.]

The tipping point?

The tipping point occurred when Berdych was given a code violation for slow play. His resigned attitude seemed to change. He played more aggressively and became competitive. Breaks and retains advantage at 5-3

Conclusion. One episode supporting tipping point theory.


Brian Clough was a better manager than Sir Alex Ferguson says Roy Keane

December 11, 2013

This week [Dec 2013] Roy Keane the combative former Manchester United and Ireland football player turned pundit has responded to remarks about him by his former manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Keane is settling old scores, but is also playing the media as his television programme “best of enemies” is screened.

He is reported as saying that Brian Clough was a far better manager than Sir Alex. New subscribers may like to see an earlier post from LWD, re-posted below. It was entitled Can we learn much from Brain Clough’s leadership style?

The original post

My leadership students this week [sometime in 2010] chose Invictus as a book or film worth studying. Would they have voted for Brian Clough, if they had seen The Damned United, screened by the BBC this week-end?

A case can be made for studying leadership in its widest variety of forms, including the actions of dictators as well as saints. Can we learn more from studying Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Gandhi than from studying Hitler and Stalin? And what about sporting leaders such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough?

The Damned United, [released March 18th, 2009], concentrates on one of Clough’s few managerial failures, who after less than two months managing Leeds United Football Club, was fired for a combination of bad results and an abrasive style which extended to the club’s board of directors.

It was rescreened by the BBC [10.30pm, BBC2, Sunday July 18th, 2010].

Brian Clough is fondly regarded nowadays, not because he was ahead of his time but because he was very much of it, despite upsetting football’s authoritarian old guard with his cocky contempt for them. He would never have got away with his genius in today’s world of agents and multimillionaire egos. With copious footage, this documentary traces his rise from a dazzling young centre-forward scythed down in his prime, turned brilliant, self-assured manager, to the ruddy-faced figure he cut in his sad decline.

When the film was first released, Prof Szymanski of CASS Business School told the BBC “It was socialism if you like …You do see this idea in business sometimes. The focus was on the needs of his players. These were his frontline staff – they’re the ones under the pressure, they’re the ones who deliver, so you need to meet their needs whatever it takes. …[however] he was a very overbearing employer, incredibly paternalistic – like Stalin and just as frightening.”

Clough himself never over-analyzed his management technique.
“They tell me people have always wondered how I did it” he once said. I’m told my fellow professionals and public alike have been fascinated and puzzled and intrigued by the Clough managerial methods and technique and would love to know my secret. I’ve got news for them – so would I”

Would Clough make a good business leader? In one of his teasing philosophical dialogues, Plato has Socrates ask a similar question: ‘would a military leader be a good director of a theatrical chorus?’ But in Plato’s account, Socrates was too cute to suggest that there was a simple answer to that question.

Acknowledgement

Image [Brian Clough not Roy Keane] from The Tactician


The fight for the ashes: A tale of two Captains

August 13, 2013

The 2013 cricket matches between England and Australia showed two different styles of captaincy. It could be argued that the England had the better team and won, Australia had the better captain and lost

Monday 12th August 2013, approximately 6.30pm local time A cricket match in the scenic little town of Chester le Street in Durham was well into its fourth day, with Australia in control. The most likely outcome was an Australian victory sometime in the afternoon of the following day. England were leading with two victories and a draw. Australia could still draw the series by winning the match and then the final contest the following week. The match was running later that the scheduled finish time for the day to make up for time lost through rain in the afternoon session.

Thoughts turned to dinner and to catching up through a highlights programme of the penultimate day’s play a few hours later.

Monday 12th August 2013, approximately 8.30pm local time Returned from delights of Pepperoni pizza in downtown Bramhall. Astonished to find that the match was over. Jubilant players were mingling with jubilant supporters. Australia had collapsed. England had won the series.

A tale of two Captains

If we are to take the media reports seriously, Australia were a relatively weak team captained with panache and skill by Michael Clarke. England had the stronger team captained by the inexperienced Alistair Cook. Clarke repeatedly found imaginative ways to unsettle the England team’s batting efforts, and ‘led from the front’ almost winning the previous game, only thwarted by bad weather. Cook’s captaincy was criticized for putting safety first, waiting for the Australian batsmen to self-destruct. In several matches this eventually worked, only after Australia had worked their way to winning positions.

If we don’t take the media reports seriously …

There is a dilemma of leadership here. In tightly contested matches, you might expect better captaincy to swing the matches in favour of their teams. Possibility one is that Cook’s captaincy was not as bad as some pundits opined. Possibility two there were other apparently game-changing factors. Home advantage might have been one, for example.

What the papers say

I have refrained from reading what the newspapers say until after completing this post. They may tell the story as a tale of two captains, or the brilliant final bowling spell of England’s Stuart Broad, or the fine batting of Ian Bell which more than compensated for the batting of Australian captain Michael Clarke.

Next series

Cricket continues on its remorseless way. In less than six months, it will be Australia on home grounds against England. Another series to enjoy and create the leaders we deserve?

Follow up news on captaincy

The crude ‘good captain/bad captain debate continued. I haven’t found adverse comments on Clarke’s captaincy. The original comments on Cook’s performance have been rejected by several team members and coaching staff. Ian bell wrote of Cook’s outstanding skills at leadership when crisis loomed – calming the team and encouraging them to perform better. Coach Andy Flower was even more effusive in praising Cook’s leadership skills The issue may not be unconnected with the England Captain’s apparent drop in batting form in the series

Which suggests me that the criticisms of Cook may reflect leadership decisions mostly tactical on the field; that he is respected and liked in the dressing room; that the views of coach and players may capture aspects of his leadership style perhaps influenced by a desire to react to criticisms of Cook’s captaincy. AS so often, the evaluation of a captain’s capabilities defies simplistic polarity into ‘good Captain/bad captain.


Who owns Old Trafford?

August 1, 2013

Who owns the iconic Old Trafford football stadium, home to Manchester United Football Club? A council decision raises complex legal issues

Manchester United Supporters Trust have been granted rights at Old Trafford stadium if the club is ever sold, through a ruling of the local council. This ruling classes the ground as an Asset Of Community Value. Unsurprisingly, the current owners of the club anticipate legal implications in the ruling. For example, would a decision to change the club’s name to strengthen its financial position be affected? Would the value in a future sale be influenced?

To the non-legal eye

To the non-legal eye, it all looks rather peculiar. The Trust talks of representing ‘the fans’. I can see the symbolic weight in this. But wait a minute. A few months ago, figures were published claiming a measurable proportion of the World’s population could be classed as Manchester United fans. It could be argued that The Supporters Trust represents millions of fans world wide, or maybe only its signed-up members.

No trivial issue

This is no trivial issue. In the UK at the moment, The Trades Union movement is currently embroiled in a debate regarding the rights they have over the Labour Party, though the individual subscriptions of its members, its block votes representing those member at Labour Party conferences, and its influence over the political policies of The Labour Party. Much politicking is taking place over the rights of individual members (some who are not Labour supporters) to opt out of the political levy included in the existing arrangements.

Which brings us back to Manchester United, its fans, and its legal owners.

Squatters rights and just cause

Another lens through which to examine the story: Various cases have been tested in court throughout the years over squatters rights and tenants rights. Common law principles are often evoked. The cases can become highly fraught, as the parties of weaker power resort to increasingly illegal methods outside the courtrooms, acting in what the individuals under threat believe to be on behalf of a just cause.

Which makes for good newspaper stories. Sometimes victory goes to the just, although more often to the powerful.


Muirfield should keep its men-only club rules and live in its self-elected bubble

July 18, 2013

How to defend two differing sets of human rights? There are ways, including setting up the sort of Apartheid-type approaches which eventually were overcome in South Africa

Much has been written about the men-only rules of the Muirfield Golf Club, as it hosts the 2013 Open Championship [July 2013]. Many members of the golfing fraternity disapprove of discrimination in all its forms, and have spoken up against Muirfield’s ‘weird’ rules (as one golfer put it).

South Africa, many years ago, had its own political rules about association between people of different races. It took decades of dissent to overturn the rules. Pressure on the Muirfield club will eventually probably result in a change of its rules, as took place recently at Atlanta.

There is another way. Muirfield has every right to stick to its rules, however weird they seem to others outside the club. Those who feel strongly about it, should ensure that the rules are protected from being weakened by forces from outside. For example, golfers who might dispute the rules could decide they would prefer not to play in competitions at the club. Broadcasters (encouraged by subscribers and sponsors) could decide they did not want to broadcast events held at the club. Spectators could decide not to spectate. And so on.

This would help Muirfield to preserve its rights of association of its male membership, and there would be one more major golf competition awarded to clubs with a set of rules more acceptable to other people, including women, living in the 21st century.


Warren Gatland: Rugby’s effective answer to charismatic leadership

June 26, 2013

Warren GatlandThe Lion’s tour of Australia has thrust their coach Warren Gatland into the media spotlight. His appearance and actions demonstrate that effectiveness in a leader does not necessarily require a charismatic style

Warren Gatland has appeared in literally hundreds of news items during the Lion’s rugby tour of Australia. Dozens of commentators have offered their views of his strategic decisions. I have not come across any that have implied he is a charismatic leader. Nor had I come across severe criticism of the effectiveness of his decision-making in the areas of team selection and match preparation and tactics until the announcement [2nd July 2013] of the team to play the final and series-determining test match.

Effective and non-charismatic

That leads me to conclude that he is widely perceived as both highly effective and non-charismatic. Someone surfing the Leaders We Deserve site recently was searching for evidence that Gatland might be transactional in leadership style. He can show both transactional and transformational elements in his comments about players and their motivations.

His low-key press performances suggest that he is has an uncomplicated way of understanding the needs of his players which avoids the dangers of showing favouritism. This was important, because Gatland had coached the successful Welsh squad to success prior to the tour, and will resume duties after it. Journalists from the other Rugby playing countries England, Scotland and the combined Irish territories might have hinted at favouritism in selection. Gatland’s frank press conferences may have contributed to avoiding that criticism. The evidence is that he has largely addressed the dangers of demotivated ‘second class citizens’ playing only in the provincial games. This has bedevilled earlier tours including the one coached by [Sir] Clive Woodward.

Kicking out the box

I don’t like to capture leadership style as a fixed and unitary trait. Style is better (in my judgement) treated as a description of an important pattern of behaviour that may change with circumstances. That incidentally is the basis of situational leadership theory which suggests just that, offering style as variable according to circumstances or contingencies. Beware of boxing people into one fixed style of behaviour.

Level five leadership

I have written in the past about level five leaders in sport, a term attributed to Jim Collins. The theory is that charismatics have powerful influencing skills, but tend to be tripped up by their own ego. Level five leadership has been described as demonstrated by those who show fierce resolve with less intrusion of personal ego. Which may suit what we have seen of Warren Gatland recently. But I hope that assessment is not the same as putting him into a conceptual box.

I write this still uncertain if the Lions will win the three match test series. The outcome will not impact on the evidence of Gatland’s effectiveness or style.

Hero to zero?

The Warren Gatland story hit the headlines internationally through his selection decisions for the final test. The series decider took place after a one-point loss by the Lions in the second match. Gatland made several changes. These would have been controversial as the starting XV contained no Scottish representatives and ten players from Wales the country Gatland now coaches. But the most shocking omission was that of BOD (Brian O’Driscoll) Irish legend who would have been playing in hist last Lions test match. Gatland, it is worth noticing, was a successful coach of Ireland’s national team in the past. He had noticed and nurtured O’Driscoll’s great talent.

The selection was widely criticized, provoking bitterness and anger in the judgements of such authorities as Sottish commentator Ian Robertson, and by former Irish commentator Keith Wood. I found the hundreds of comments in web-discussion sites both depressing and enlightening. Fury and anger was directed towards Gatland. The most widespread comments were that he was an inept decision-maker, following a dubious strategy which involved picking his ‘own’ Welsh players. (Gatland is from New Zealand, incidentally, the country most fiercely competitive against Australia.). One more balanced comment reminded us that Gatland is notoriously unsentimental in his decision-making. At the start of the Lion’s tour he left behind Sean Edwards, his [English} coach to the Welsh team’s backs. Edwards Felt ‘gutted’ about the decision.

The most revealing comments indicate that Gatland should be judged on whether the Lions win the final test. I have explained above why I think that is a poor way of assessing a leader’s capabilities. But I welcome comments from LWD subscribers.


Puma Adidas rematch as Bayern beat Dortmund in the Champions Cup

May 27, 2013

Bayern DortmundThrough a series of coincidences, the 2013 European Champions cup final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund was also a reminder of the historic rivalry between the Puma and Adidas firms

The Champions League football final [May 25th 2013] took place in Wembley stadium before a capacity crowd. The fancied Bayern Munich eventually overcame plucky resistance from opponents who also had chances to win.

Puma Adidas

By coincidence, Bayern was sponsored by Adidas and Dortmund by Puma, two brands which have a remarkable historic rivalry. You can read about it in Leaders We Deserve [2009] in a post which describes another football match which attempted to head a seventy year old rivalry:

The charity Peace One Day plays a part in peace initiatives around the world. On September 21st, among those symbolic actions were those taken by Puma and Adidas, two firms whose existence reflects a long-lasting family feud within a small Bavarian township. They played a football game football together and watched the movie “The Day after Peace” by Jeremy Gilley, director and founder of PEACE ONE DAY.

The Adidas Puma story seems right for a Hollywood movie. In the 1920s, two brothers grew up and worked in the laundry shop owned by their mother in the 1920s. They started in business together with a shared idea which created the marketing of clothing exclusively for sporting activities. In the 1930s they equipped Jesse Owens for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin [a story in itself]. But the brothers rarely agreed over anything, and sibling rivalry must have contributed to the split into two firms, still operating in close proximity in a little township in Bavaria.

Whatever, the story tells of a feud during the 1939-45 war which was to split family and employees in the little village of Herzogenaurach for decades afterwards. Today, the old rivalries are mostly muted and symbolic. The Day of Peace celebrations confirmed existing practical realities of life in the township.

Branding wars

As Reuters reported [May 2013]

Adidas is the long-standing kit supplier to Bayern and owns a stake of around nine per cent in the Bavarian club, while Puma became the sportswear partner of Dortmund a year ago.
However, while Adidas and U.S. rival Nike dominate a football market estimated to be worth up to 4.5 billion euros, Puma is playing catch-up after years of focusing more on fashion than performance sportswear.

Its decision to partner with Dortmund yielded an instant return when the club made it to the Champions League final – the biggest prize in European club football and [attracted] a global television audience of over 150 million …[According to reports in the English media ]Puma are set to agree a deal worth more than 30 million pounds a year to provide the kit for English Premier League club Arsenal, replacing Nike.


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